A Brewing Revolt?

A Brewing Revolt?

Inside the Vatican, January 1998

By John Mallon

Since the Council, Catholic lay people have been patient as the ancient truths of the Faith, one by one, came under attack. Now, in America, that patience seems to be wearing thin. Is a “revolt of the orthodox” at hand?

In 1930, the Anglican bishop Charles Gore spoke up at the famous Lambeth Conference which opened the door in Anglicanism to approving the use of artificial contraception. He warned his confreres that separation of sex from procreation would free men and women from the need for marriage and that therefore sexual activity could be legitimately engaged in for love, personal fulfillment or even lust. If heterosexual sex was freed from the restraints of marriage and sex for childbearing, then what would prevent homosexuals from claiming that "right?"

The Catholic Church responded to the Lambeth Conference with Pope Pius XI's brilliant encyclical Casti Connubii, (December 31, 1930) maintaining the Church's proscription on artificial birth control with a magnificent treatise on the beauty and holiness of marriage.

In 1968 Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae, reaffirming the Church's ban on artificial contraception because it divides the unitive aspect of holy matrimony from the procreative aspect. Paul predicted the dire consequences which would follow if artificial contraception were permitted. 

Now, 30 years later the dire consequences he predicted evident everywhere on the social landscape.

Ten years ago in 1987, a committee of the National Council of Catholic Bishops of the United States (NCCB) issued a document which became a source of embarrassment to the bishops themselves. That document was The Many Faces of AIDS. What made it embarrassing—indeed scandalous—to many Catholics was its approval of providing information on the use of condoms in educational materials to prevent AIDS when all else failed. The saga of that ill-conceived and ill-fated document is detailed in a book by veteran bishop watcher Monsignor George Kelly called Keeping the Church Catholic with Pope John Paul II (Doubleday, New York 1990; reprinted by Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1993). 

The AIDS document, as Kelly reports, was severely criticized by individual bishops, and by the Vatican in a pointed statement by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect for the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston called the issuance of the document "a tragic situation." Eusebius J. Beltran, then Bishop of Tulsa, now Archbishop of Oklahoma City, voiced this complaint about such statements becoming known as "statements of the body of bishops." Speaking at the bishops' meeting in Collegeville, Minnesota, June 24–27, 1988, Beltran said, "I suggest that the body of bishops should use this unfortunate episode as the occasion to reconsider very carefully the policies, practices and procedures involved in the issuance of documents by the NCCB and the USCC. At times there seems to be an almost frantic urgency in those organizations to issue statements, testimony, policy papers, pastoral letters, and the like."

Kelly told Inside the Vatican he believes the movement to make homosexuality acceptable is now as powerful a social movement as the effort to make contraception acceptable was 30 years ago. He said that he wrote 25 years ago that "this is not an issue of civil rights, it is a pressure group that's going to seek recognition for homosexuality as a state of life."

Now, 10 years later, the NCCB Committee on Marriage and Family has released a statement prepared in the Secretariat for Family, Laity, Women, and Youth and approved for publication by the Administrative Committee on September 10, 1997, and further approved for publication by Monsignor Dennis M. Schnurr.  

While this new document, Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers (AOC), has evoked severe criticism from several Catholic leaders as being deeply flawed theologically and pastorally, as much perhaps for what it fails to say as what it does say, there has been almost an eerie silence from the U.S. bishops in contrast to the public outcry the bishops gave in response to The Many Faces of AIDS. 

The suspicion has arisen among some critics as to whether this document was fueled and unduly influenced by those who wish to further the "gay agenda" in the Church, with an attempt to push it out before the bishops could vote on it in their November meeting, with the objective of creating a gay and lesbian ministry office in every diocese, which they suspect would be run by those less than sympathetic to Vatican teachings.

One of those leaders who issued statements critical of the AOC document is Father John Harvey, OSFS, the director of Courage, a nationwide support network for people who experience homosexual attractions but wish to live chaste lives in accordance with authentic Church teachings. As the director of Courage and a renown expert on homosexuality, Father Harvey issued a statement which praised the positive points of the document and then offered his critique:

The pastoral message Always Our Children manifests compassionate understanding of persons with homosexual tendencies, and their parents and siblings. It is theologically sound on the morality of homosexual acts, and its broad message is that parents should love their children who struggle with homosexual tendencies, while not accepting homosexual behaviour. We are also pleased to see that the document recognizes the complex nature of homosexuality and that the document makes the important distinction between just and unjust discrimination. In a spirit of love, we have gathered some suggestions from leaders, members, and supporters of Courage throughout the country, and we pass these suggestions on to the Bishops, with the hope that the pastoral letter can be strengthened.

Asked by Inside the Vatican to comment on Always Our Children, he said, "This [AOC document] is as much of an embarrassment to the bishops as The Many Faces of AIDS. Both documents were unacceptable." He continued, "This document is not a scholarly document because it takes Vatican documents out of context and distorts them into other meanings which the Vatican never intended. It distorts their meaning." 

One example of this occurs in a partial quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that some commentators privately suspect to be a willful distortion on the part of the authors of AOC. This controversy, among others, centers on the use of an ellipsis in the place of only three words which make all the difference in how an uninformed reader could be mislead. AOC quotes the Catechism #2333 thus: “Everyone ... should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity,” when in fact the Catechism actually says, "Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity." (Emphasis added.) 

Ellipses are normally used for the sake of space when quoting from another work, omitting material irrelevant to the issue at hand. In this case, in a document specifically dealing with issues of sexual identity it is odd to leave out a mere three words, and especially these three words which are the crux of the matter. The next sentence in the Catechism says, "Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. (Emphasis in the original.) Indeed, the entire section of the Catechism, Nos. 2331–2336 is entitled "Male and Female He Created Them" and deals with the difference and complementarity between the sexes towards the goods of marriage, namely, the unity of the spouses and the procreation and education of children in God's plan—something physically impossible between homosexuals. The following section deals with chastity.

More importantly, Harvey told Inside the Vatican, the document "distorts the notion of identity. They [the drafters of the document] make orientation and identity equal. In other words, they talk about sexual orientation, and later on they call this your sexual identity. Your sexual identity is not your sexual orientation. Orientation would be better described as a same-sex attraction; the word orientation is too heavy, it denotes the notion of something permanent." In fact, a recent amendment to the Catechism changes the sentence from "They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial." to read, "This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial." (No. 2358.)

According to a 10 point statement of several pages released by Women for Faith and Family, a St. Louis-based Catholic organization, "The Committee's document is so profoundly flawed from nearly every standpoint—theological, anthropological, doctrinal, psychological, physiological, catechetical, methodological and even stylistic—it is unammendable. It should be withdrawn and publicly repudiated by the bishops."

The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), a group of psychoanalysts, psychoanalytically-informed psychologists, certified social workers, and other behavioral scientists, as well as laymen in fields such as law, religion, and education also weighed in with a critique of the document. NARTH specializes in reparative therapy and research in reversing the homosexual condition. Many in the gay movement consider the mere suggestion of such therapy insulting. However NARTH together with Courage have a great success rate among those who want and seek out their help.

When Harvey sent out his criticism of AOC on October 3, 1997, he suddenly remembered that he had sent out a preliminary criticism of a preliminary draft of the document on April 26, 1996. When he looked it up in his files he saw that he had made substantially the same criticisms, and come to the same conclusions. In other words, the comments on the document made by the nation's leading expert on ministry to homosexuals according to the teachings of the Church were ultimately disregarded by those drafting the document, although Father Robert Nugent, co-founder of the gay-positive New Ways Ministry (NWM) and the Catholic Parents Network, and organization serving parents of homosexuals, has stated that "there was more openness to the possibility of changing sexual orientation in the final text. And I conclude now that this was the direct result of Father Harvey's influence in shaping the document."

So who did draft the actual document? While the members of the committee can be easily looked up in the Catholic Directory, no one seems to want to take credit. On the contrary, this question has become the source of a swirling controversy. On September 10, 1997—the same day the document was approved by the bishops' administrative committee—a reporter for the Los Angeles Catholic Lay Mission, an independent lay-run newspaper in Los Angeles, attended a seminar called "Voices of Hope" in Orange, California, sponsored by The Catholic Parents Network, co-founded by Nugent with Sister Jeannine Gramick. Nugent and Gramick have been under investigation by the Vatican for their work in New Ways Ministry, and have been forbidden by the Vatican to continue their participation in that organization. 

New Ways Ministry describes their mission as follows: "New Ways Ministry provides a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian and gay Catholics and reconciliation within the larger Christian and civil communities. Through research, publication and education about homosexuality, we foster dialogue among groups and individuals, identify and combat personal and structural homophobia, work for changes in attitudes and promote the acceptance of gay and lesbian people as full and equal members of church and society."

The language used here is clearly the jargon of homosexual advocacy. NWM, on their World Wide Web site employs much of this language in a way unsympathetic to Vatican teachings. Nugent and Gramick are fondly referred to as co-founders of New Ways Ministry, and the Web site devotes a great deal of laudatory space to them offering short bios, articles, information on their books, addresses, phone and fax numbers and email addresses, as well as information on a pilgrimage to Greece in January led by Nugent and Gramick, while careful to refer to them only as founders. 

The distinction is a fine point but evidently critical because in a November 13 statement by Cardinal James Hickey in The Catholic Standard, his archdiocesan paper, expressing his disapproval of a scheduled debate on Church teaching and homosexuality to be hosted by New Ways Ministry at the Jesuit Georgetown University, he mentioned the group as being under Vatican investigation. In a November 17 press release promoting the debate, NWM director Francis DeBernardo countered the Cardinal by saying, "At no time during its 20-year history has New Ways Ministry ever been notified by Church authorities that the organization is under investigation." (Emphasis added.) Hickey had said: 

New Ways Ministry, currently under Vatican investigation, is a locally based advocacy group that is distinctly and deliberately ambiguous with regard to the Church's teaching on the wrongness of homosexual activity. I have repeatedly warned against the theological and pastoral approach taken by this group. That approach would seem to envision the possibility of licit sexual activity by members of the same sex under certain circumstances. Like any so-called "pastoral" strategy which contradicts the Church's teaching, the approach of New Ways Ministry is spiritually and pastorally harmful. Furthermore, it is naive for anyone to think that the Church's teaching will receive a fair hearing in a debate organized by a group opposed to certain aspects of that teaching.

A casual browse through the NWM Web site easily demonstrates the group's attitude towards Vatican teachings. The following sample is from their link containing a response to a recent document from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

The June, 1992 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith entitled Some Considerations Concerning the Catholic Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-discrimination of Homosexual Persons is further evidence of a growing and serious gap between the Vatican and the U.S. Bishops on the issue of civil rights for homosexual persons. In light of these differences and traditional Catholic moral principles, the latest Vatican pronouncement is more accurately termed "a" Catholic response rather than "the" Catholic response. 

Here they refer to a presumed gap between the U.S. Bishops and the Vatican—a gap which may come as a surprise to some bishops—and that the Vatican view should be considered merely as one view among others. Contrast this statement with the following excerpt from the document of the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, issued October 1, 1986, (exactly 11 years to the day of the release of AOC) :

... this Congregation wishes to ask the Bishops to be especially cautious of any programmes which may seek to pressure the Church to change her teaching, even while claiming not to do so. A careful examination of their public statements and the activities they promote reveals a studied ambiguity by which they attempt to mislead the pastors and the faithful. For example, they may present the teaching of the Magisterium, but only as if it were an optional source for the formation of one's conscience. Its specific authority is not recognized. Some of these groups will use the word "Catholic" to describe either the organization or its intended members, yet they do not defend and promote the teaching of the Magisterium; indeed, they even openly attack it. While their members may claim a desire to conform their lives to the teaching of Jesus, in fact they abandon the teaching of his Church. This contradictory action should not have the support of the Bishops in any way. (No. 14.) 

In their press release, DeBernardo countered, "Anyone who has participated in a New Ways Ministry program can testify that the full range of the Church's teachings, including the objective morality of homogenital acts, is presented and explained. We believe that the same will occur during the Georgetown program." The debate, entitled "Bridging the Gap: A Theological Debate about Homosexuality" went on despite Hickey's objections, although one debater, James Hanigan, a married former priest who heads the theology department an Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, said the Cardinal's objections gave him "serious pause" but decided to participate anyway. Hanigan was said to be representing the "Magisterial teaching of the Church which forbids same-sex behavior and considers homosexual orientation a grave disorder." The other two debaters were Richard McCormick, SJ, a moral theologian and one of the long-standing deans of American dissent, who was described as representing "the revisionist position which views same-sex behavior in certain instances to be morally acceptable, but ... views a heterosexual orientation as the norm," and John McNeill, a former Jesuit priest expelled from the order for his outspoken dissent from Church teaching on homosexuality, now a practicing homosexual and psychotherapist living in New York with a male partner. McNeill was described as representing the "egalitarian position which sees no substantive difference between heterosexual and homosexual orientation or behavior." 

The debate was co-sponsored by The Georgetown University Student Association, Georgetown Pride, and the Bisexual, Lesbian and Gay Law Association, and, according to the press release, "endorsed by dozens of Catholic groups." DeBernardo said, "The debate answers the call for education on the issue of gay and lesbian people by the U.S. bishops in their October 1997 pastoral statement, Always Our Children." 

The report in the Los Angeles Lay Catholic Mission, claims that at the Voices of Hope Seminar it was revealed that the drafting committee for the AOC document included Nugent, as well as a publicly self-described "gay priest," Father Peter Liuzzi, Director of the Los Angeles Archdiocesan Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Catholics, and Father Jim Schexnayder, Executive Director of the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries (NACDLGM). Father Schexnayder, according to the December issue of Catholic World Report magazine (CWR), works closely with the homosexual group Dignity, a group which rejects Catholic teachings on homosexuality while lobbying to have their dissident views accepted by the Church. Most dioceses have policies refusing to allow Dignity to use their facilities for Masses and other gatherings. 

Nugent vehemently denounced the Lay Catholic Mission Story in a letter to Catholic World Report, which he also faxed to Inside the Vatican when we asked for a statement. In a separate statement to Inside the Vatican, Nugent said that he was not a drafter, or even, properly speaking, a consultant, but merely one of many people asked by the bishops' committee to review a first draft of the document and offer comments as was Father Harvey. He also said he knew personally that Father Schexnayder was asked to read a first draft, but did not know about Father Liuzzi.

The Lay Catholic Mission story, charged that at the Voices of Hope seminar, Father Nugent expressed concern that "the bishops might get cold feet and decide not to release this letter if there is a groundswell of opposition prior to its release. He stated that there are several ways in which the letter can be issued. It can come directly from the committee or it can be sent to the floor at the upcoming U.S. Bishop's meeting in November where the letter will be debated. Given the controversial nature of the letter, Father Nugent warns his audience that influential bishops can kill the letter if it goes too far. He urges that the best way to get the letter published is to take the middle road, conceding that people like Courage founder Father Harvey would criticize the letter if it is too radical."

Nugent strongly denies this in his letter to CWR, saying, "Had I had any 'secret strategy' as alleged, I most certainly would not have identified anyone associated with the document in a public workshop. ... Far from suggesting that it might be necessary to publish the pastoral 'hastily' to avoid opposition, I expressed the disappointment of myself and many others that it did not appear earlier as expected."

Inside the Vatican asked Nugent why, if the document was almost three years in the drafting, it couldn't have waited a few more weeks until the bishops' November meeting so they could vote on it. Some sources reported that some bishops were unhappy that they didn't get the opportunity to do so, while other bishops were said to claim they did not even know it was forthcoming until it came out. 

Nugent replied that, "AOC was written and published in accord with all the standard procedures of the NCCB. Not all conference documents involve all the bishops in their drafting or approval. All documents, however, do have to have the approval of the 50-bishop Administrative Board, so those bishops, most of whom are highly placed and influential in the conference, not only authorized the document AOC, but also approved its final version for acceptance and publication. It would be impossible for the bishops to debate and write every Conference document and not all of them are as important as the pastorals on peace and economics. In one sense, the fact that AOC did not come before the full body of bishops, says that it is a much lower level document than those others. It is not true that the bishops did not know it was coming out since in both 1995 and 1996 at the annual meeting in November all the bishops received reports from all the committees advising them on what projects were underway. So all the bishops heard for two years in a row that the family life committee was working on a statement for parents."

We pressed further on this asking, "why wouldn't a document on this topic have the same importance to the bishops as the peace and economic documents, given that the theological, pastoral (which we see as inseparable) and social implications of homosexuality, are more in the bishops' line of expertise as pastors than nuclear or economic policy? People look to pastors more for guidance in these deeply personal matters than they do the wider political matters, despite the moral implications." 

To this Nugent replied, "I don't think you can compare a document that impacts the whole world (the peace pastoral) or one that impacts upon the whole population of the USA (economics) and beyond, with a document that impacts a relatively small number of the population. That is, I don't think the AOC document is nearly as important as the other pastorals on larger societal and world issues. Granted, the issue of homosexuality also impacts upon community values and morals, the nature of family and marriage and other related issues, but I think the majority of people will never side with the more radical gay groups in terms of marriage. I think the Church can deal with the civil rights issues, pastoral care ministry, social justice, etc. without making them of major importance. But I do think that most Americans side with an economic policy that does exploit other nations to provide our country with a very high standard of living. They will need much stronger teaching to convert them in the area of economics than in that of sexuality.

"Secondly, I would question whether the bishops are any more experts on homosexuality than they are peace or the economy. While the issue of homosexuality is a deeply personal matter as you indicate and people look to their pastors for guidance on such matters, I also think that with a renewed understanding of 'morality' we are beginning to see that the sexual issues are by far not the only and perhaps not the major 'moral issues' we face today in the Church. Also I think we are learning that just as economics and nuclear issues are very complex and that people in good faith can come to different positions, this same allowance is being made for some of the sexual issues under discussion. The black and white position does not work in economic and nuclear issues discussions and many think it does not work either in sexual issues.

"Unfortunately, I think people ought to look more to the bishops for guidance on the larger moral issues of welfare reform, housing policies, capital punishment, etc. and not just to the sexual issues.

"I think the pastoral implications of an economic policy on society are far more crucial to people than any pastoral implications of policies on homosexuality—both do affect society but I think the former in a far more significant way than the latter."

Many would disagree with Nugent's assessment of the relative importance of sexual issues to society. If importance can be measured in body counts, it is important to remember that the so-called "Sexual Revolution"—which was launched by the advent of the birth control pill, sternly warned against by Pope Paul VI, whose warnings at the time were (and still are) laughed off by those who thought "social justice" issues more worthy of the Church's time and attention—has claimed casualties in the tens of millions. For example, abortion—a direct result of the sexual revolution and the casual attitude towards sex brought on by artificial contraception, has claimed well over 30 million lives and devastated at least twice that number. The Associated Press recently reported that there are 30 million cases of AIDS in the world today—a number far higher than experts previously thought. Outside of Church teaching sex can easily become an addictive instrument of death instead of a fulfilling instrument of life. 

There is no such thing as "private sin" any more than there are "victimless crimes." "Sinful structures" are built upon personal sins, and social injustice grows out of the spiritual injustice of not giving God His due—namely obedience. It is far easier to rail against a government policy than quiet a noisy conscience. Rhetoric, slogans and denying that sin is sin can only drown it out for so long.

The "gay lobby" has made inroads at every level of American society including the highest levels of government, with the objective of getting homosexual relationships on the same level of social acceptability as heterosexual relationships, an acceptance which would include same-sex marriage. The Church remains the last bastion to be conquered. New Ways Ministry, along with their co-founders Father Nugent and Sister Gramick, according to the Lay Catholic Mission article, "has paved the way for homosexuals to believe that one can practice a homosexual lifestyle while continuing to be a member in good standing with the Church."  

Nugent and Gramick, and New Ways Ministry, according to the LCM report, strongly opposes the approach of Father Harvey, and the notion that homosexual attractions are a cross and not to be acted on. Rather, according to the story in the Lay Catholic Mission, "Nugent and Gramick stated that the theology of the Cross is an outdated concept. Instead, they advocated membership in ACT-UP, the activist homosexual group with its 'theology of social action.'"

Nugent responded to Inside the Vatican on this by saying "Courage was discussed as one model of ministry which assumes that homosexuality is an emotional or psychological illness. We disagree with that assumption. We did not say the theology of the cross was 'outmoded' but that it can sometimes be misused to perpetuate a situation of injustice that can be rectified. We do not advise women who are victims of spousal abuse, for example, just to carry their crosses and offer it up! We did not 'advocate' membership in ACT-UP, but said that some homosexual Catholics might find that group's stress on changing social injustice might be an appealing form of contemporary spirituality."

(Readers may recall ACT-UP as the group that years ago disrupted Cardinal John O'Connor's Mass at Saint Patrick's Cathedral spitting the Sacred Host back in priests' faces after receiving Communion, and who held an obscene and blasphemous demonstration at Boston's Holy Cross Cathedral in June of 1990 in an attempt to disrupt an ordination Mass.)

God knows persons with homosexual attractions and their parents deserve all the pastoral love and care the Church can provide, and have the right to trust it is in accordance with Church teaching, and this is precisely what Courage, the group founded by Father Harvey, and Encourage, the group he founded for parents of persons with homosexual attractions offers. Yet, Harvey's knowledge and experience in this field as a priest and theologian was evidently discarded in the drafting of this document. 

While it can be argued that this is not a document of the body of bishops but of a single committee, the drafters of this document had to have known that once it reached the secular media all distinctions would be lost. Even still, many average Catholics do not know that documents released by individual bishops' conferences are not necessarily Magisterial Church teachings. 

There is a very real possibility that people could die (much less lose their souls) as a result of this document. AOC recommends parents who suspect that their young adolescent children may be experimenting with homosexuality take a "wait and see" approach. Apart from the danger of serious sin involved, this risks the terrible danger of the child contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. It is also true that high school aged children today experiment with homosexuality the way their parents experimented with drugs.

The influence of left-wing political agendas is not unknown in the middle-management of the NCCB/USCC, but when it comes to their children Catholics deserve better when it comes to guidance given ostensibly in the name of their bishops.

At press time both The Lay Catholic Mission and Nugent are sticking to their stories in the controversy over what took place at the Voices of Hope seminar. How it will play out remains to be seen.

© 1998, 2007 by John Mallon